S&P Cuts EFSF Rating

Officials insist Europe's rescue facility adequately funded

Standard & Poor's followed up its mass cuts to the credit ratings of eurozone countries on Friday with a cut in the credit rating of the European Financial Stability Facility on Monday. EFSF officials said that nonetheless the facility was well enough funded to cope with the eurozone debt crisis as markets barely reacted to the news.

Reuters reported that the rating cut, from triple-A to double-A+, came Monday after the ratings agency said that the dependability of the EFSF depended on its remaining triple-A guarantors. France and Germany are the largest of those, and France was one of the countries cut on Friday.

In a statement, S&P said, "We consider that credit enhancements that would offset what we view as the now-reduced creditworthiness of the EFSF's guarantors and securities backing the EFSF's issues are currently not in place. We have therefore lowered to double-A+ the issuer credit rating of the EFSF, as well as the issue ratings on its long-term debt securities."

The ratings agency added that governments “may currently be exploring credit-enhancement options,” according to a Bloomberg report, and that if the EFSF adopts improvements “sufficient to offset its now-reduced creditworthiness,” it “would likely raise” the rating to triple-A. If not, it would change the outlook to negative.

Despite S&P's action, several European officials said that the EFSF was well positioned to cope with its mission until the European Stability Mechanism takes over in the middle of the year. The EFSF's effective lending capacity of 440 billion euros ($562.339 billion) has been guaranteed by the eurozone's triple-A-rated countries, of which there are now only four: Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Klaus Regling, chief executive of the EFSF, said in a statement, "The downgrade to 'double-A+' by only one credit agency will not reduce EFSF's lending capacity of 440 billion euros. EFSF has sufficient means to fulfill its commitments under current and potential future adjustment programs until the ESM becomes operational in July 2012." He also stressed that the fund's short-term rating was left unchanged at triple-A.

French Finance Minister Francois Baroin issued a statement that said, "The EFSF has kept intact its ability to lend, with enough means and guarantees to fulfill the full range of its present and future commitments. There is therefore no need to act on the EFSF at the moment."

Steffen Siebert, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was quoted saying, "The government has no reason to believe that the volume of guarantees that the EFSF has now should not be sufficient to fulfill its current obligations. We should not forget that it has been decided to significantly move forward the ESM and to have it in place in mid-2012, one year earlier than planned."

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also weighed in on the side of inaction, saying that the German government will not increase its guarantee on the facility, saying in the report, “The guarantee sum that we have is sufficient by far for what the EFSF has to do in coming months.” Germany is liable for 211 billion euros in guarantees for the EFSF.

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